Silence is not a comfortable part of our world. We are pressured to keep up with our culture and the norms of our society. The glitz and professionalism of the movies and entertainment is being absorbed by our churches. And it’s a dilemma. Why would someone come to church if the entertainment isn’t as good as at our entertainment centres?
Well, the obvious answer would be to find God . . . but let’s refuse sarcasm for a moment. The pressure to entertain people by programs is huge. Our little church, planted in the middle of a high immigrant, low income area, is struggling to understand what it means to be a church. We talk in circles about becoming a part of the community. But we’re still tempted to put on ‘one more program’ so that the people will come to us – even though we know that our calling is to go and live among the people so that they too will know the glory of our God as we work alongside of them in the community.
As Christians, we feel that we are competing against the world for air time. Naturally, our logic is, the church should be giving people something that can compare with the world’s entertainment.
But we have it wrong! I know I’m yelling but I can’t stress this enough:
the church should be giving people something much, much better than they could get anywhere else!
And that might just be the opportunity for silence.
We seldom give ourselves the opportunity to ‘centre down’, to quiet our busy lives, to sit patiently waiting for the Lord to draw near and speak in his ‘still, small voice’. That’s something that seems best left for our private times of devotion . . . if we can actually do so without falling asleep!
A number of years ago, I was leading worship at a conference in western Canada. On the second night of the conference I became keenly aware of God’s presence drawing near. In fact, I didn’t use the final two songs in the worship package the team and I had rehearsed earlier because there was a clear sense that God had ‘drawn near’. I stood on stage in silence for a couple of minutes, then put my guitar away and sat down. The band followed suit and also came and sat down.
For the next 75 minutes we sat in silence. David Damien, the guest speaker for the conference, never got up to speak. No announcements were made. We just sat in silence.
It was an amazing process I went through during that time of quiet. First, I thought, “Wow, this is really neat! An awesome, unplanned time of quiet to reflect on what God has been saying to us through the songs we’ve been singing.” But twenty minutes later, I began to question whether I should have maybe done those last two or three songs anyway. Or maybe I should get up and play again – you know – to fill the silence. Maybe just add some ‘mood’ background music. Forty-five minutes into this time of quiet reflection, the silence had become excruciatingly painful as my thoughts began a valiant effort to fill the void with sound. “Didn’t they fly this guy up here to speak? So what is he getting paid for? We came to hear him speak! The church is not getting its money’s worth! The people attending this conference are getting ripped off!”
Finally, for the last fifteen minutes – my resistance finally worn thin – I was able to become quiet before the Lord and begin to listen for his voice. And he made his still, small voice heard.
After this time of silence, the guest speaker stood up and asked the congregation what God had been saying to them. People stood up to share what they had heard God speak to them during that time of silence.
God had spoken in powerful ways during the silence.
When I walk into the cathedrals of Europe, I am drawn to the echoing silence of the stone walls. There are many factors that give the feeling of awesomeness: the age of the building; the height of the ceilings, the art work, the architecture, the stained glass. But more than that, there is a sense of quiet reflection. People enter into the building talk in hushed whispers.
While I love the excited voices in our church on Sunday morning, sometimes I wonder if we need to provide a public place where those who need to listen to God can just come and be quiet, where there is an expectation of silence.
God used silence in the past to speak to his people. He uses silence today to speak to us. Are we taking time to become silent before him so we might more clearly hear and understand his voice? Sometimes our best worship starts when we become silent and wait for his still, small voice to speak.
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